Thursday, May 31, 2007

Thursday Arch Series

A few more weeks of Thursday Arch pictures in color. I'd like to think of this one as an emergency exit from the earth to the part of the sky the Arch lives in. Thanks to the school bus driver for creating such a great chromatic effect.

FRIDAY AND SATURDAY: Two pictures with horses in them. From me, a city boy.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Blade Runner

Forest Park is the great green space of St. Louis. It's considerably larger than Central Park in NYC or Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. The 1904 World's Fair was held there (Meet me in St. Louie, Louie, meet me at the fair...).The park is criss-crossed by bike and running paths. This rollerblader is gliding uphill on the long straightaway along Skinker Boulevard, the park's western edge.

TOMORROW: Thursday Arch Series (another in color)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

View From On High

Kiener Plaza, a couple of blocks from my office downtown, has a small amphitheater sunken below street level. Last Saturday a Christian rock band was on the stage, filling the area with sound. It was probably due to the sound system, but I couldn't understand the lyrics. There was little audience, except for the occasional dog walker and photographer.

TOMORROW: Blade Runner (change of plans), concluding Black And White Week,

Sunday, May 27, 2007

More from Laumeier Sculpture Park

Laumeier has one knockout piece after another. I wish their web site had more detail about the sculptors and the names of the works. (See post of May 18.) This picture was also taken at the big Mother's Day weekend art fair. The scale of the piece can be seen from the people at the bottom, sitting at tables and having a snack. You can see the details of the photo more clearly if you click on it to see a bigger size.

TOMORROW: Black and White Week Continues - A Skeptic

Bear Market

I apologize for the dreadful pun in the title of this post. Two big stone bears guard the entrance to the old Kiel Opera House on Market Street downtown. This link shows several different views and gives a bit of history. It was a venue for Broadway shows, touring musical acts, the St. Louis Symphony before they moved to their current home in the 60s and even the odd opera. It has been empty for a number of years. There's talk about redevelopment but nothing has gone forward.

Canon 5D, EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM at 47 mm, ISO 800, f 22, 1/80 sec.

TOMORROW: Black and White Week Continues - Steel, Art and a Snack.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Outdoor Sculpture: Richard Serra's "Twain"

Richard Serra's massive sculpture Twain occupies a full block of lawn on the east side of the Civil Courts Building (see May 16 post). It consists of eight oxidizing steel plates, about 3 m tall, arranged roughly in a triangle. The work is not so much about these metal slabs as the city you see through and over the gaps, how it feels in the strange space inside. I think it's fascinating.

Lots of people thought much the opposite when it was installed 25 years ago (although it is simply accepted now). It was called an ugly pile of rust. A bill was introduced in the Board of Aldermen to remove it. It failed, unlike the effort to destroy Serra's Tilted Arc in lower Manhattan.

Twain is difficult to photograph. You can view only incomplete segments from ground level (and perhaps that was part of Serra's plan). The only way to view the whole thing is from above, up in an office building. Photos of some other views can be seen in the first link above.

TOMORROW: Black and White Week Continues - Bear Market

Friday, May 25, 2007

Two of the Basic Food Groups

A little tale about American urban decay and rebirth: in the 1980s, the city authorities and private developers planned and built St. Louis Centre, which at the time was the largest downtown shopping mall in the U.S. It was a big hit at first but then withered. If you are interested in the whole story, take a look at the fascinating but somewhat morbid site Some pictures of the structure are here.

The place became nearly vacant. The remaining tenants were mostly bottom-of-the barrel. This picture, taken about two years ago, is a window of a ground floor corner space, which was then occupied by an unappealing fried chicken and fish joint.

The Centre closed in 2006. However, it has been bought by St. Louis premier redeveloper, Pyramid Architects, which is transforming it into ground floor retail with luxury condominiums above. It will add to the resurgence of population downtown.

Tomorrow: Black and White Week Continues - Twain (not Mark)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Thursday Arch Series

And Now For Something Completely Different:- All of the pictures in the Thursday Arch Series thus far have been minimalist, black and white images. I'm not interested in postcard pictures of our icon and I love the Arch's spare beauty. Every once in a while I get a color shot I like, though. Often they are fragmented reflections in the mirror glass office buildings near the riverfront. Have a look at these over the next few Thursdays and let me know which style of photo you prefer.

TOMORROW: A week of black and white - two basic food groups

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Drum Circle

University City, in St. Louis County, borders the City of St. Louis. (Remember our STL civics lesson?) It gets its name from Washington University, part of which makes up U. City’s southeastern flank. Its quirky, hip main drag along Delmar Boulevard is called The Loop. I think the trolleys from the city used to turn around there years ago.

The Loop is full of oddball shops and restaurants, an art house cinema and a locally famous club named Blueberry Hill where local resident Chuck Berry drops in to play. I was walking through the area with my camera last weekend. The people at sidewalk cafĂ© tables didn’t particularly want their picture taken by a stranger. And then I heard it.

Pulse, pulse, pulse, pulse, one and two and three and four. Counter rhythms. Syncopation. Riffs of balanced/unbalanced beats booming from many percussion instruments. In a small plaza by the farmers market was a drum circle, 12 or 15 people beating it out. Most but not all were black. There was only one woman. Their faces looked unaware of each other, each in an individual reverie, but they played as an ensemble. I orbited the circle taking scores of pictures while most of the drummers ignored me. It was like finding a diamond on the sidewalk.

Tomorrow: Thursday Arch Series - And Now For Something Completely Different

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Diners and Greasy Spoons: Eat Rite Diner

I'm starting a series of pictures of the old-style everyman's restaurant (before McDonald's), the American diner. For visitors from other countries, a diner is a simple restaurant where you can get a an inexpensive hamburger, cup of coffee or slice of pie. They always have counter service. Many, but not all, have tables and chairs. The original ones were prefabricated and had a similar look. This picture is a typical example. Here are some of the variety of styles. The quality of food and service sometimes led people to call them greasy spoons. The Eat-Rite Diner has been at this location just south of downtown as long as I can remember. There used to be a sign that said "Eat Right Or Don't Eat At All."

Chili parlors, burger joints and the like fall into the same category. Lots of them are all-night operations of a kind made famous in Edward Hopper's painting,
The Nighthawks. Got to get out with my tripod at night and shoot some of the best ones.

TOMORROW: The Irresistible Beat

Monday, May 21, 2007

Stars and Stripes

This is the flag in yesterday's post, shot with the low sun behind it. Such an image stirs strong responses in many Americans.

It got me thinking about national flags in general, both as symbol and simply graphic design. Which countries' flags do you think are the most beautiful or most meaningful? Skim the list of 57 (at this writing) thumbnail flags at the lower left of this page, or check this or this exhaustive set of illustrations. As an American, I won't comment on ours. I might vote for the flag of Nepal as being the most original - the only one that isn't a rectangle - but for simplicity and powerful graphics I also like Japan. The flag of South Korea takes this design a step further, adding symbols of traditional philosophy. In the western hemisphere, I am partial to the celestial flag of Argentina, with its sky, clouds and sun. This has nothing to do with my feelings about a country, just the design of its flag.

What about national anthems? They go hand in hand with the flags. Unfortunately, many are very dull. IMHO, none come close to the kick-ass national anthem of France, La Marseillaise. Click this site, choose French or English, then click The Music/La Musique and listen to a recording by Placido Domingo -
you can't stay in your chair. (Okay, he's Spanish, but just submerge yourself in his voice.) I also like the simplicity and purity of feeling of Oh Canada. Click that link for the lyrics in English and French as well as a downloadable mp3 played by an orchestra. A beautifully sung version may be found here.

What do you think about national anthems and flags? Tell us in your comments.

TOMORROW: Eat Rite Or Don't Eat At All

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Bike and Banner

On Friday evening, the local chapter of the Arthritis Foundation held their annual walkathon fundraiser in Forest Park. I do some volunteer stuff for them and my business was a sponsor of the event. It seems to be a tradition at big public events around here that the fire department sends two trucks with tall cranes. They park back to back, raise their cranes to the highest point and suspend a huge American flag from the tops. (It's not flying upside down.) Some bikers were also helping out, lending more color.

I was walking around taking pictures in an exhibitors' area. The pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, had a big tent, promoting its products and giving away pens, note pads and such. When I approached the table, a woman asked if I would like a Celebrex pen. Sure, I said, I take the stuff myself. Then she asked if I would like a Viagra pen. I told her it depended on how far out the point came when you click the pen. She looked confused and then, with an awkward smile, turned and started talking to someone else.

Show Your Colors

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Validate Your Existance

St. Louis has a dinky light rail system, Metrolink. It has one very long line, from the airport to downtown, across the Mississippi via beautiful old Eads Bridge and then way, way out into the Illinois suburbs. A couple of years ago, a spur opened from from the Central West End of the City, through Clayton, the seat of St. Louis County, and then a bit south through some areas where hardly anyone goes.

The lines were laid out on the cheap by following old railroad rights-of-way, rather than acquiring land through places where people actually need transit services. I can't complain, though. There is a stop under my office building, from which I can get to the airport for $2.
You must buy a ticket and then validate it with a time stamp. The ticket validation machine in this picture is at the top of the 8th and Pine station downtown, right on the corner where I work.

A very big, very patriotic motorcycle

Friday, May 18, 2007

Outdoor Sculpture: Laumeier Sculpture Park

Out in the suburbs in St. Louis County is Laumeier Sculpture Park, a real delight. Some rich person of that name left her 72 acre estate to the people of metropolitan St. Louis. It has grown into an internationally-recognized open-air museum. The lawns and wooded paths contain an eye-popping variety of large-scale sculpture. Mrs. Laumeier's former home serves as a museum for smaller work.

The park's web site does not identify the work in this picture, which is about 4 meters tall. I was leaving the park when I saw it and did not look for an explanatory sign. Interpretation of the art is up to you. There are lots more interesting works and I'll post photos of some in the near future.

TOMORROW: Have you been validated?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Thursday Arch Series

View looking at the base of the south leg of the Arch, shot from the north. The picture shows the plates that make up the surface, which looks so smooth from a distance. This photo was taken using a Lensbaby, a special effects lens that keeps a "sweet spot" of focus surrounded by progressively greater blurring. It's easier to understand if you click the link to their web site. Great toy if you use an SLR, either digital or film.

TOMORROW: A Number Of Strangers In The Woods

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Archetecture: The Civil Courts Building

To the casual observer, the Civil Courts Building in downtown STL might look like just another old government structure. Hovever, a closer view of the archetecture reveals it to be genuinly wierd. Here's a description from a web site about St. Louis history:

The building is the replica of the tomb of King Mausolus built in 352 B.C. at Halicarnassus in Asia Minor. It has a step pyramid on top of a Greek Temple with a pair of griffins at the peak. It houses the law library atop the ten stories of courtrooms. The building combines elements of many divergent styles including Egyptian, Greek and Oriental.

An archetectural web site has these comments:

The building's style can be described as Greco-Egypto-Assyro-Babylonian. At the top of the building's ten-story shaft is a step pyramid. The area below this pyramid is a law library, which is reputed to be a very attractive space with high ceilings and lots of light.

On top of the pyramid are two aluminum griffins that are twelve feet tall. Unlike mythological griffins, they have human faces that symbolize human mercy tempering justice.

The building was completed in 1930 and has been the site of civil litigation ever since. Some detail is shown in these enlargements:

TOMORROW: Thursday Arch Series

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Final Note From Philly

On Monday morning, I attended my niece's graduation at the University of Pennsylvania. The commencement speaker was James Baker, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and later Secretary of State under George Bush, Sr. Much of the speech was a tedious justification of the policies of the Republican presidents he served. However, it seems obligatory to open a major speech at Penn with some quotes from Benjamin Franklin, the founder of the university. The quote at the bottom of the video screen was much more meaningful to the students.

TOMORROW: What's Greek, Egyptian, Assyrian and Babylonian and overrun with lawyers?

Monday, May 14, 2007

STL CDPB Visits Philadelphia

Strangetastes and family are gathered in Philadelphia for the graduation of a very talented niece from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. Philly is an interesting and fun city. On Sunday night we all dined at Morimoto, the restaurant of the Iron Chef. Sublime food served in a room somewhere between a space capsule and a seashell. This the the view from the bar, overlooking the dining room.

Twenty paces east down Chestnut Street is a parking lot with this grand mural. The lower parts are all made of ceramic tile inlay. You might be able to read the quotation on the lower right by Abrahan Lincoln if you click the picture to enlarge it.

Walking around town this afternoon, we stopped by Reading Terminal Market, full of interesting things to eat, drink, read and watch.

Toynbee tile supplemental report: as expected, Philadelphia is full of the mysterious street sayings. They are much different from the ones in St. Louis. Almost all I saw were post-card size, black and white. Although they had about the same basic words, the small extra text was different. Maybe I can get a sampler done on the plane home tonight.

TOMORROW: not sure yet. Check back on Tuesday.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

All Hat, No Cattle

Texans have a phrase, all hat and no cattle, to describe a phony cowboy, someone who adopts the dress and the talk but doesn't know which end of a horse is the front. Looks like I may have found one in the St. Louis airport Saturday morning while waiting for a flight to Philadelphia, which doesn't have a CDPB and certainly deserves one. (I may have sparked interest in a PHL bartender last night.) Can you make out the Nikon tag on the bag on the floor?

By the way, this is my first post of a picture outside the St. Louis city limits. Ready for a St. Louis civics lesson? I thought so. The City of St. Louis is a city within the State of Missouri. It is also a County of the State of Missouri. However. St. Louis County is a different county of the State of Missouri, completely surrounding the City from the Mississippi River to the north and around to the river on the south. Got that? The mailing address for many but not all places in STL County is still St. Louis (true for my home in the County). So, I have decided that anything in St. Louis City or County is fair game for this blog.

TOMORROW: STL CDPB Visits Philadelphia

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Gaze At The Western Skies

Well, southwest, actually. This is the view from my partner's office in another corner of the building. The big tower in the center was/is the Southwestern Bell/SBC/ATT Building. The building on the left with the dome top is our new federal courts building, home of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. (Like you care.) I am admitted to practice in both forums but I avoid those people as much as possible. The courthouse is actually the taller of the two, barely shorter than the Arch, but its image is shrunken here by a wide angle lens.

The two buildings in the center foreground are old office building that became vacant. They are among the scores of unused commercial structures in downtown STL that have been renovated into lofts and apartments. The one in the foreground is just under construction now. Having worked worked in the area for more than 30 years, it's a delight to see a real upswing in population and services.

TOMORROW: All Hat and No Cattle (change of topic)

Friday, May 11, 2007

June 1 Theme Day Warm-up

The June 1 CDPB theme is the view from your bedroom window. I'm not sure how I will handle this: the view from my bedroom window is pretty boring.

To get myself moving on this, I shot the view from my office window. The big building on the left is Metropolitan Square, the tallest in STL. It is slightly shorter than the Arch. It's not a law, but there has been a general agreement here that no building should be taller than the Arch. The apparent difference in hight here is because the Arch is several blocks farther away and I was using a wide angle lens.

The Mississippi River is behind the Arch and beyond that. East St. Louis, Illinois.

TOMORROW: Look to the Western Skies

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Thursday Arch Series

This picture is from the same sequence as last Thursday's post. It was a hot, clear summer day. I was shooting straight at the north leg of the Arch from Eads Bridge, our oldest bridge over the Mississippi River. There were great highlights on the metal skin from the blazing sun. I tipped my camera angle up and got this flare effect that seems to put a halo around the Arch itself.

TOMORROW: Warm-up for the June 1 theme day

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

My Toynbee Tile Obsession: A Third Located In St. Louis

Web sources say that there are three Toynbee tiles in St. Louis. I located this one yesterday at the intersection of 7th and Market Streets. Again, I must have walked over it hundreds of times.

This tile is the most deteriorated of the three but has the most extra text at the bottom. Here's as much as I can make out:

...der F.O.I.A, N.B.C. journalists funneled F.B.I information on meto sov...c, b...reau...ious...on attempt pr...ordinate so...ton mese...

F.O.I.A refers to the Freedom of Information Act, a U.S. law that requires federal government agencies to reveal information to the public on demand, with exceptions for personal data or matters related to national defense and security. For our visitors from other countries, N.B.C. is one of our major television networks. Are there any linguists out there who can fill in the obliterated words? states that tiles exist in these cities: Philadelphia (possibly the original location), Pittsburgh, New York, Baltimore, Aberdeen, Maryland, Edgewood, Maryland, Washington, DC, Columbus, Toledo, Cincinatti, Cleveland, Boston, Atlantic City, Bellmawr, NJ, Chicago, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Detroit, Mottville, MI, and, of course, St. Louis.

Three tiles have been reported in South America, in Rio de Janeiro, Santiago and Buenos Aires. Karine and Ale, the BsAs tile is said to be at the intersection of Avenida de Mayo, Rivadavia and Parana.

I'd like to see photos of Toynbee tiles from CDPBers in these areas. Please e-mail me or post a comment on my site if you do so. This is enough on the topic from my city for now. If I locate other tiles in STL, I may report at another time. And, as I mentioned yesterday, I'll be in the tiles home town, Philadelphia, this weekend. Might post something next week about my findings.

This whole business has taught me something about my own perception, or lack of it; what I notice and don't notice.

TOMORROW: Thursday Arch Series

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

A Second Toynbee Tile

Camera in hand, I went out on the street Monday looking for the other two Toynbee tiles reported to be in downtown St. Louis by This one is in the crosswalk between Starbucks and Macy's at 6th and Olive. The color saturation and contrast have been bumped up to make it more legible. Note the text at the bottom of this one. It appears to say, "You must make + glue tiles!! You! You must make + glue tiles!"

It turns out that I've come late to this party. There have been a number of newspaper, radio and television features about this phenomenon. National Public Radio did a short piece about them in September 2006. There is one local news feature available on YouTube, from KSDK Channel 5 here in STL. There are web references to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer as early as 1983. Several other newspapers have reported on the mystery, including the New York Times in 1999.

The inventory published in four years ago reported that there is a Toynbee tile at 6th and Washington but I was unable to find it. The KSDK news report says that one is located at 7th and Market, which I will look for today if I can get away from the office.

More Toynbee tiles are found in Philadelphia than any other city. By a stroke of luck, my camera and I will be in Philadelphia next weekend.

TOMORROW: A Third Toynbee Tile Is Documented In Downtown St. Louis.

Monday, May 7, 2007


Attention amateur detectives, conspiracy theorists and devotees of the unknown:

I was crossing the intersection of 8th and Market Streets in downtown St. Louis a few days ago, a place I've walked thousands of times, when my eye fell on a spot of color in the street. What's this? It was made of some kind of tile embedded in the pavement. Toynbee...Kubrick...Jupiter?

No idea what this meant so it was Google to the rescue. It turns out to be a bizarre international phenomenon, the subject of much study and speculation. These mysterious tiles have a site that catalogs known locations and provides other references. Many have been destroyed in the course of routine road maintenance. There are reports that some cities, such as New York and Chicago, have deliberately attempted to erradicate them. By far the greatest number are found in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, there is no CDPB in Philadelphia. Now, if someone was waiting for a reason...

The game's afoot, Watson! The other two reported St. Louis locations are downtown and I will attempt to photograph them at once. CDPBers of the World, are there one or more Toynbee Tiles in your city? Let's see them.

TOMORROW: Will Strangetastes Find Other STL Tiles?

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Where I Work

I'm in Bloomington, Indiana, for a niece's college graduation, searching my laptop's hard drive for material. So, the place in this picture is where I hang out.

TOMORROW: Is There One Of These In Your City? You Need to Know

Outdoor Sculpture Series: The Apotheosis of St. Louis

Okay, this is The Big Guy, Saint Louis, King Louis IX of France. It stands opposite the entrance to the St. Louis Art Museum (which we'll get to one day. It's wonderful motto, inscribed over the entryway, is Dedicated To Art And Free To All. And it is.). The title of this post is the actual name of the statue. This apotheosis business may seem a bit overblown but, after all, he made saint.

Check out the picture of the museum by clicking the link to its home page. That's a big, long hill in front, foreshortened by a telephoto lens. When it snowed, students from St. Louis University and nearby Washington University would steal trays from the cafeteria to use as sleds on Art Hill under the saint/king's gaze. Control of your tray was a concern. The lagoon at the bottom may or may not have been frozen.


Friday, May 4, 2007

Outdoor Sculpture Series: Nijinski Hare

Don't tell me St. Louis doesn't have a sense of humor. In a plaza between the hockey arena and a public transit transfer hub looms Nijinski Hare by Barry Flanagan. We don't get any closer to ballet in this neighborhood than Disney On Ice. Any St. Louis Blues hockey fan who can identify Vaslav Nijinski without clicking this link gets 10 bonus points and their choice of a print of any STL CDPB photo or a puck that Bernie Federko once tripped over.

By the way, those metal rectangular things benind the bunny are also sculptures. They glow with pulsing, changing colors at night and steam comes out through the grates. Pretty cool. Better get out with my tripod in the dark.

Yesterday's teaser for this post referred to the Energizer Bunny. By amazing coincidence, the world headquarters of Energizer Batteries is walking distance from the statue. Imagine that.

TOMORROW: a·poth·e·o·sis
1. the elevation or exaltation of a person to the rank of a god.
2. the ideal example; epitome; quintessence: This poem is the apotheosis of lyric expression.

Visit Buenos Aires Today

Once more, my friend Karine has posted one of my photos of Buenos Aires on her blog. Click here.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Thursday Arch Series

No arch to be seen in this image, just a pillar. This was shot straight at the north leg from Eads Bridge on a cloudless day. The picture shows the plates that make up the skin of the Arch. It looks monolithic. Did Stanly Kubrick know the Arch's designer, Eero Saarinen?

TOMORROW: Energizer Bunny (finally)

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

In Memoriam: Josh Hancock, 1978 - 2007

In the first hour of Sunday, April 29, Cardinals relief pitched Josh Hancock died in a car wreck. On a highway leaving downtown, a 28,000 pound flatbed tow tow truck was on the left shoulder, assisting a disabled vehicle. The shoulder was narrow and the truck extended into the traffic lane. Hancock's SUV hit the back of the tow truck. There was no indication that he braked. Hancock was killed instantly.

Later that day, Cardinal fans began to leave expressions of grief and sympathy at the gates of the stadium. Hancock had pitched the afternoon before his death, when the Cubs drubbed the Cardinals 8 to 1. News outlets began to report that Hancock had spent that evening at a steakhouse and bar near the stadium, drinking with friends. The restaurant manager offered to call a taxi, which Hancock declined. It was also reported that three days previously Hancock showed up late for a day game, hung over.

A daily photo blog has an open maw that requires constant feeding. My office is near the stadium so I went there at lunch time yesterday to photograph the scene. I had a cynical attitude: Hancock was probably drunk. On the day Princess Diana died I was in Toronto and remember the mountain of flowers at the gates of the British consulate. At Christmas after 9-11 I was in New York, my home town, walking by the fence of Trinity Church in lower Manhattan, densely woven with individual expressions of grief. At a glance, the balloons and signs at the stadium gate seemed tiny, a bit pathetic, in comparison. As I kept looking and shooting, looking and shooting, I realized that what I saw was just as heartfelt, as genuine an expression of painful emotion. On the walk back to my office, tears welled up in the corners of my eyes.

TOMORROW: Thursday Arch Series

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Theme Day: City Exchange

Found your way to a Dublin or Cork blog? No. It's St. Patrick's day in St. Louis. We have an official, sanitized parade downtown on the Saturday before St. Pat's. However, on March 17 itself, there is an anything goes parade in one of our old neighborhoods with the lilting name of Dogtown.

TOMORROW: In Memoriam (change of topic)